One of the highlights of my short business trip to Seoul last month was visiting the War Memorial of Korea. The memorial grounds and building are located near the US Army’s Yongsan Garrison and the headquarters of the South Korean armed forces.
The first thing that you notice is the striking monuments at the front of the grounds. One juts into the sky...
...and is flanked on either side by depictions of heroic figures of South Korean soldiers, marines, and airmen.
Another demonstrates the tragedy of the divisions wrought by the war by showing a pair of brothers (one from the South and one from the North) embracing on the battlefield atop a fractured structure.
The monuments, like the entire War Memorial, are up front in honoring the South Koreans who fought for their country’s freedom and not shy about proclaiming that the cause was just.
The phrase “Freedom Is Not Free” is one that you find throughout the War Memorial.
Another impressive aspect of the War Memorial is the amount of military equipment they have on display outside. There are a score of aircraft including a B-52.
And various planes flown by the South Korean Air Force (most American made), MIGs and Russian transports used by the North, and helicopters. There are also a number of tanks, armored personal carriers, trucks, and artillery pieces. I’ve seen most of the American equipment before, but I appreciated being able to check out some historic Soviet vehicles up close.
I was a bit surprised to learn how far South Korea’s military design and production capabilities have come. There were quite a few home grown tanks, artillery, and anti-aircraft pieces on display as well.
The most unusual and interesting display outside was the replica of the South Korean PKM 357 patrol boat which was involved in the Second Battle of Yeonpyeong in 2002.
Not only can you walk through the boat and see what it would have looked like after the naval engagement, you can also relive the battle itself by viewing a 3D movie re-enactment inside. It was a little cheesy, but did help bring the fighting that killed six South Korean sailors to life. It was also a helpful reminder that the danger posed by North Korea is indeed clear and present and not distant history.
There was an entire section inside the memorial building that detailed the various North Korean acts of aggression since the cease fire armistice was signed in 1953. It’s easy to forget just how numerous and recent they have been.
1968: The Blue House raid--attempt to assassinate the President of South Korea
1976: Axe murder incident at DMZ
1983: Rangoon bombing
1987: Bombing of Korean Air Flight 858
1998: Battle of Yosu
1999: First Battle of Yeonpyeong
2010: Sinking of ROKS Cheonan
2010: Bombardment of Yeonpyeong
There was also a map showing what the impact would be if a nuclear device were detonated in Seoul.
Again, the threat of that scenario playing out is all too real for South Koreans.
The building also featured exhibits on Korean military history through the ages including the role that South Korean expeditionary forces played in Vietnam, Iraq, and with various UN peacekeeping operations. Of course, the largest areas-and the ones that interested me the most-were devoted to the Korean War. Those exhibits were engaging and informative. Being a bit of a history buff, I thought myself fairly well-informed on the Korean War, but I learned quite a bit more.
One particularly cool attraction was 3D computer simulator (full motion) that allowed participants to experience the Inchon landing. It started with a message from a computer generated General MacArthur, then put us in the seat of a Corsair providing air support, in a landing craft hitting the beach, and finally a tank leading the assault inland. It was easily the best simulator experience I’ve gone through and provides promise for simulation of similar events in the future.
This week, there was controversy about South Korean rapper Psy performing at ”Christmas in Washington” after it came to light that earlier in his career he had sung songs with lyrics about killing American soldiers. There is none of that sort of ignorant ingratitude toward America that is at times displayed by younger South Koreans at the War Memorial of Korea.
While there is ample emphasis on the assistance provided by UN forces in the war, there is also a clear recognition of the special US role and acknowledgment that America bore the lion’s share of the burden in preventing South Korea from falling to the Communist North. In addition to listing the names of all the South Korean military dead from the war, each of the names of the UN troops killed are also listed. That list includes 33, 686 Americans. An exhibit in another section of the memorial building details the on-going military relationship between the US and South Korea and describes that relationship as being forged in blood. It’s good to know that those sacrifices have not been forgotten. I’m sure that my father-in-law (a Korean War vet who passed away last year) would have been heartened by that remembrance and the reverence shown for those who paid the ultimate price.
It may sound trite at times, but the phrase is true: freedom is not free.